Obama calls on China to halt land reclamation, new construction in South China Sea

MANILA, Philippines – President Barack Obama called on China to halt land reclamation and construction in the disputed South China Sea in his latest show of support for Southeast Asian nations unnerved by China’s assertiveness in the region.

Obama met Wednesday with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Manila, where he called for “bold steps” to lower tensions over the contested waters.

China claims most of the South China Sea, creating a fault-line in relations with its Southeast Asian neighbours including the Philippines and Vietnam.

Through land reclamation, China has created artificial islands from reefs to bolster its claims. But the U.S. has recently responded with military manoeuvrs near the islands to show it won’t allow freedom of navigation to be compromised in seas that are crucial to political stability in Asia and global trade.

Obama said he and Aquino discussed the impact that China’s land reclamation is having on regional stability. He’s said that maritime disputes need to be resolved peacefully.

“We agree on the need for bold steps to lower tensions, including pledging to halt further reclamation, new construction, and militarization of disputed areas in the South China Sea,” Obama said.

Aquino said freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea must be continuously ensured, consistent with international law.

South China Sea disputes and the Paris attacks have overshadowed the trade- and business-focused agenda of the annual APEC summit.

China’s president Xi Jinping did not mention the South China Sea in his speech Wednesday to a business conference held alongside APEC.

The 21-member bloc accounts for about 60 per cent of global GDP. It groups the United States and China with midlevel powers such as Australia as well as developing nations in Asia and South America.